I feel super lucky to have spent the day with my good mates riding trails. For some strange reason (I am still trying to figure out) they travelled all the way out to Hidden Vale to shred trails with me for a couple of hours in the searing heat, followed by some pool time, beers and food. It’s pretty overwhelming to have such a good community of riders, racers and most importantly friends, to help you get by.
Today I have had too much coffee, too many beers (two), too much cake (it was a large slice, I couldn’t finish it!), far too many presents and a bit too much sun.
I feel lucky to be in a position where I can share my birthday with the ones I love; right now I have the best bike I could ask for, a job, all the appropriate gear and a whiz bang coffee machine to open my eyes up of a morning. But really in the end having your health, family and friends is much more important than any material possessions.
Today I got to live life to the fullest, which is pretty special.
Thanks to all that came and helped make my birthday a thing. And I don’t feel any different to 29 (the backache started a week ago anyway!). To those who couldn’t come, I still love you guys and catch up soon.
I was speaking with a trainee coach recently who has begun to write some training programs for an athlete; one of her first athletes other than herself she has taken on training. TSS, or training stress score, is a word that was brought up on a few occasions. For those not using training software, the TSS is a way of attributing a numerical value to the intensity and duration of a given workload. TSS is a great tool that can allow coaches and self-coached athletes to build a periodised plan taking into account an acute and chronic training load, building fitness before peaking into a race.
Yep it all makes excellent sports science-y sense and is great in theory, but in reality I don’t like it.
The application of training software and the robotic nature of TSS denies the human nature, and ‘life’ factor of people who ride and race bikes (in coach land we call them athletes!). While it may be more applicable and useful for professional athletes with training being their sole job, for many of us recovery is a luxury and training is a matter of fitting it in when we can.
For example, leading into Toowoomba National Series race a few weeks ago, I managed a solid 13hour week the week prior, followed by only 4hrs in the week lead-up to Saturday’s XCO race. Undoubtedly a very extreme de-load but hours on the bike only paint part of the picture; the week prior and week of the race I did over 25 hours of work overtime in meal breaks not granted and shift extensions. My life TSS was maxed out. It was amazing I had any form of legs at all during the race!
The past few weeks haven’t been nearly as crazy at work, however I have put together a 4 year old’s birthday party, hosted a women’s mountain bike ride day in addition to my work. Once again the life TSS cup runneth over, which has been evidenced by a back injury likely caused from lifting too many people at work and just being damn tired. With a key race coming up in only a few weeks, and an inability to perform my usual work duties (due to lifting), let alone fit in some important key rides, it’s the best I can do is work on my athlete’s programs, write blogs and do my rehab exercises while drinking too much coffee and trying to not go mad.
If you were to look at my TSS right now, it would pain a very different picture of an undertrained rider on beginner hours or a severely broken person, rather than someone who races in the elite category in national mountain bike and local road events.
The moral of the story? Be kind to yourself and be realistic with your riding and training. I know many ‘everyday’ people who train the house down as they have read stories about elite and professional athletes training 25hrs/week and believe to be good they have to do the same thing. The TSS of 25hrs/week training may be appropriate for someone with years in the sport who doesn’t have other life commitments, but just isn’t feasible for anyone with a job or family or other life commitments. Fatigue, injuries and mental health issues are just some of the problems that can arise from overtraining. Have a coffee, and keep TSS in perspective.
This weekend saw the last of the MTBA National Series race at our ‘local’ track, Toowoomba (not actually being local, but 90mins drive is close enough). I haven’t pursued the national series for a while; I jaunted to the You Yangs last year but that was it since the year prior. This is quite a different story from the pre-kids affairs of a few years ago when we would try and get to as many of them as possible, leading up to national champs. We also had time to worry about calories, our own HR data (now I only worry about others’!), pre-race low-residue diets and other frivolous first-world athlete problems.
Now there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you are doing with your life, but right now, as I have said a few times, I am very much a part-time athlete. I am happily a part-time athlete, and know the pro life is not one I would be interested in living, even if I had the legs or the lung capacity. The interesting thing is the effect these changes in my life has had on my racing and attitude towards it.
Having the younger AB’s unifocal approach to mountain bike racing (with the exception of the pesky full time uni and part time work) means that I would put a lot of pressure and expectation on myself to do well. We know how my nerves manifest: it’s not pretty, it can get very negative and used to be able to sink an otherwise seaworthy ship into a pile of self depreciating anxiety and self doubt. I would be lying if I said this doesn’t still happen to an extent, but in the flurry of life whizzing by the ability to race is a luxury and it’s now approached with the attitude of ‘far out I have just finished four days at work totalling 47hrs, I am a complete wreck, nothing is planned, now I am heading out to race cross-country, WTF? Oh well, better make it count!’.
The anxiety is in the getting to the race amidst the cacophony of a screaming preschooler, sorting out bedding, clothing and said preschooler, bikes, helmets, food, bottles and a husband who is probably also grumpy due to the forementioned list.
Back in the pre-kid days, the racing anxiety was intensified when I was amidst a group of women racing and the pointy elbows were out. There were some unorthodox ghetto lines being taken and general unpleasant raucousness in a bid for a better position. If this was the ‘mongrel’ that needed to be unleashed to race well, I didn’t think I had it in me. While I am known for my forthrightness, being unpleasant and unfairly haranguing riders was strongly in my ‘you’re being a dick’ box and not something I wanted to undertake.
There are many sports science studies on motivation and growth mindset, and having read through many of these in a bid to assist other athletes I have garnered many a nugget of gold. One theory is that due to less financial incentives for women’s sport (boo!), women tend to be more intrinsically motivated, to be able to dig deep from a place deep inside to pursue a goal for themselves rather than for riches and glory, of which there is little. While I am sure this motivation isn’t universally X-chomosome linked, I have witnessed such a broad spectrum of racing behaviour, it makes me wonder if this different expression is due to their differing motivations. Perhaps one is intrinsically motivated and understanding that the process of racing begets growth, another motivated by external factors and ‘win at all costs’ attitudes?
I was pleasantly surprised when I witnessed none of this variety of ‘mongrel’ behaviour on the race track this weekend. Sure, rubbing is racing but it was respectful and without harassment. The course was such that a slight variation in climbing speed was quite pronounced, meaning there was no hiding if one rider was faster than another. It was also rough and brutal, meaning that if a rider was struggling it was quite evident.
I also realised that every one of the riders out there was trying to release a mongrel; it just wasn’t as conspicuous as when one is pushed into a bush or chopped. Furthermore, I came to the realisation that when I started racing, the mongrel didn’t exist as I was too focussed on just getting to the end in one piece. As I got stronger he was a puppy learning the ropes and now he’s a huge hairy dog. With big teeth, oh yeah he’s scary looking. But my mongrel isn’t there specifically to maul the competition, he’s not there to focus on trying to achieve a podium, he’s at his most driven and powerful when I have set goals unrelated to finish positions or glory and more focussed on the things I can control in races.
My mongrel embraces the hurt and aims to ride smoothly and consistently. The mongrel can tell when the start is too hot and backs it off 1% to make it to the end feeling strong, even better when you can overtake a few riders that went with it and cooked themselves. My mongrel is well mannered, asks to pass and does so without running people off the track (my mongrel would not do very well at a world cup by the sounds of it, but that’s ok it’s not really on my to-do list!). My mongrel can still make poor decisions (like not using good passing opportunities or taking a slower line accidentally) and can lose focus if my mind wanders, but he is a good dog who is always learning.
The mongrel is a result of years of racing experiences; a kaliedoscope of pain tolerance, gritty determination, and old girl strength (this weekend I was referred to as an old girl, what will happen once I turn 30? Super old girl? Alas, I digress…). This doesn’t mean I don’t feel threatened, get nervous or negative prior to racing, but I now know my mongrel is at his strongest when I am riding happy and positive. The mongrel has allowed me to ride much better than my training time and commitment to athleticism would predict.
My mongrel is a work in progress, but my goodness he has served me well so far this year. I implore you to do some soul searching and find your own mongrel, after all ain’t a mongrel a mountain bike racer’s best friend?